The Growth Experiment: How the New Tax Policy Is Transforming the U.S. Economy

By Lawrence Lindsey | Go to book overview

Chapter 16

Fairness for Families

"The root of the state is in the family."

—MENEIUS (372-289 B.C.)

One of the key challenges of tax policy is to keep the tax system in tune with changes in society. In the United States, no change is more dramatic than the rapid entry of women into the labor force. Just twenty-five years ago, there were twice as many men working as women. Today, 45 percent of the people employed in the United States are women. One family in six is headed by a single female, compared with one family in ten as recently as the 1960s. More than two-thirds of these single parent families are self-supporting, with incomes in excess of the poverty level. In 58 percent of married couples under age sixty-five, both spouses work. Although many women still work part-time, the wife provides at least 30 percent of the household's earnings for two-earner couples 42 percent of the time. 1

The changing shape of families and the growing role of women as wage earners is a challenge for the tax system. Married women entering the labor force face quite high effective tax rates. One of the important changes in the 1981 tax bill was the Two Earner Deduction, which reduced the marriage penalty and thus reduced the marginal tax rates of married women. Women responded powerfully to these tax changes, increasing their paid work time and reducing the revenue cost of the 1981 tax bill. Nevertheless, married working women still face the most punitive effective tax rates of any major group in our society. 2

High tax rates on married women's work are a remnant of the

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